Double Take

11 August 2019

Indian weddings – familiarity with the extravagant and vibrant tradition is internationally widespread, especially after the celebrity fanfare surrounding Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ marriage at the end of 2018.

When I learnt that a cousin’s wedding was luckily taking place over the mid-semester holiday and my family were planning on flying over to India, I was excited to finally witness the wedding experience firsthand. Infamous for its numerous ceremonies and rituals, an average wedding could span several days or weeks. But in my mind, there was an even larger commotion taking place.

Growing up, my childhood had been relatively whitewashed, with my family immigrating to England a little before my second birthday. I was anxious about whether or not I would be accepted by my extended family, the majority of whom I had no memory of. What if nobody could understand my heavily accented Hindi? What if nobody even wanted to talk to me?

But these fears couldn’t be further from the truth.

As soon as I arrived, I was treated with such warmth and welcome that I felt overwhelmed by the love from everyone, even the bride who I had not previously met, yet who took time out of her busy schedule to get to know me. For those few days, I was taken under the wing of a swarm of female cousins who had memories of me as an infant.

There is a prevalent expectation that an immigrant’s quality of life is unequivocally better after moving to a Western country, especially for the second generation and onwards. But for that short period of time, my heart was forlorn for what could have been had I grown up in India.

These thoughts are almost too guilty to admit, as though if you say it out loud, you invalidate every sacrifice and every hardship your parents went through to get you to where you are today, and all the opportunity that it presents. And not only that – the feeling grows even worse when you consider how comfortable you are with the depth of your own assimilation into your new country’s culture.

But this was deeper than a moment of thinking the grass was greener on the other side. While the benefits of living in a country like Australia are clear, I, and thousands of other children of immigrants like me, have forever lost the connection to my ancestral history and home.

Many everyday challenges are inevitable for second- generation immigrants. The ability to live in a country and never for a moment doubt that you ‘belong’ there; to not feel the need to re-evaluate your identity on a daily basis; to have your experiences and emotions validated.

A particularly heartbreaking moment of my visit to India was when an Aunty with two children my age turned to me in and in a casual, chit-chat tone asked:

“Why don’t my children want to come back home? Why is it that once they leave for America or UK or Australia, they never want to come back to me?”

I was speechless. I had nothing to answer her with, because in that moment, I genuinely did not know. Admittedly, for someone who has lived in foreign countries for most of my life, I couldn’t relate to the nuanced dynamics of leaving the homeland as a young adult.

But perhaps more importantly, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to leave the unconditional love and support of family members and elderly de-facto ‘relatives’ who were rooting for your success and who treated your personal victories, no matter how small, as their own, despite the fact that it has been decades since you last met.

Reminiscing on what could have been may not be the most productive activity in the world, but I hope it encourages you to reach out to the people in your lives and tell them you love them, regardless of how long it’s been.

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